Tuesday, 26 February 2008



The installations of Cosima von Bonin deal in familiar, even orthodox concerns. There are surprising combinations of furniture, fittings and architectural features gathered in impressive variety, partitions, platforms, railings, improvised and mobile fixtures, booths, barricades, hangings and upholstery, together with toys, ornaments, luxury and sporting goods, all tidily placed for contrasts and comparisons in shape, colour, texture, scale and function; for neglected or optional codes and connotations. Bonin’s signature is perhaps diverse use of commercial textiles, sometimes mounted and framed as pictureseven paintings – elsewhere applied to unlikely items of furniture and fittings.

The installations display a curious range of standard goods, in a range of curiously non-standard ways. They continue a trend in installation to formidable assembly; prominent adaptation and puzzling content (see also Posts 7 and 8). The effect is a little like the work of a very distracted or confused interior decorator. Bonin is highly regarded in Germany and her recent show at MOCA L.A. (Sept 07 – Jan 08) consolidates her standing. Yet there are reasons why her work should prove attractive in Germany, offer more resistance elsewhere. This post looks at the particular range of goods and materials favoured by the artist and the way they are used.

Her work is not exclusively composed of readymade articles, and the articles are neither exclusively prestigious nor modest. It would be a lazy conclusion to describe the range as between high and low culture, good and bad taste, expensive to cheap. Nor are all the articles devoted to retail or trade display, to domestic or private use, to frivolous or everyday use, indeed some are not easily recognised or have no obvious function. The artist makes some articles, uses her own possessions, sometimes makes works that strongly suggest favourite German artists, such as Rosemarie Trockel and Sigmar Polke and at other times invites friends to contribute. It is this complexity or depth to the range of material that firstly recommends the work, but it is also the thorough-going integration of the private, the eccentric or exotic with the standardised, industrial and commercial that holds a special appeal for German art.

The issue frequently centres on architectural aspects and influence (see also Posts 15, 46 and 54) but in installations, this influence becomes especially pointed. There, the architecture of the gallery itself smoothly engages with the installation’s partitions, racks, lighting schemes, plinths and seating arrangements, provides the opportunity to use the material differently to some extent, to reshuffle categories, reconstrue meaning, while demonstrating the building’s overriding versatility, social purpose. The work is in a sense shared with architecture and a civic plan, the influence teased out to the level of toys and furniture.

Bonin’s work follows in the wake of Reinhard Mucha’s adoption of office furniture in striking arrangements, Thomas Schütte’s attention to décor and fittings, Katharina Fritsch’s table settings and arrays of toy animals, Rosemarie Trockel’s knitted Rorschach and animal patterns, items of clothing in documented photographs and related compositions (this to stress the German strain to Bonin’s work). The artist need do no more than imitate and combine to register a small signature here, extend and invite to provide installation with a powerful impetus to assimilation. And the works are finally about this wealth of resources, her restless navigation of the clutter and options, a skittish, impatient character.

So Bonin’s approach carries greater resonance in Germany, and particularly for her Cologne-based contemporaries, where this more scattered, perhaps promiscuous view of the artist’s role is widely shared. It derives at some distance from Sigmar Polke, more so from Martin Kippenberger and Albert Oehlen with the 80s boom and entrepreneurial turn. It goes almost without saying that Bonin is happy to use works as setting for performance, to direct film or videos, to write or design for others, even to DJ, as further phases to the same expansive engagement. Not surprisingly, elsewhere her involvements look less distinctive or compelling. Outside Germany, the affinities with preceding and adjacent artists, the smooth integration with domestic and industrial products, tend to look like a surrender to commerce rather than a subtle and supple redirection of uses. Similarly, items taken singly from installations, predictably lack the context and friction.

All the same her approach allows greater flexibility than a blanket commitment to commission or the readily-made (see also Posts 25 and 49) and if her variations on the work of others are not especially bold, remain a little too tasteful, they at least provide a point of departure or structure that installations by others so often struggle without.

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